Authors: Geoffrey C. Bunn
Organized criminology was slow to develop in England.
Crime was not regarded as a revolutionary threat throughout the Victorian period, but it was considered “a nuisance, a puzzle and a social blight.”
As in Italy, there was perception of a “crime wave” by midcentury, occasioned by fears over industrialization, urbanization and population growth, women's freedoms, and the relaxation of “moral restraint.”
The view that habitual crime was getting worse was widespread during the first half of the century, although there was a decline in expressed anxieties about crime during the latter half of the century, particularly after the 1880s.
The Habitual Criminals Bill, passed in 1869, was a departure from the classical tradition of penology.
The success of the Victorian war on crime elevated the image of the new professional crime fighters in both fact and fiction, “but at the same time weakened the criminal image and diminished its moral meaning.”
The crowd was an alluring target for criminological doctrine. Constituted as “the apotheosis and the crisis of a science which had been from the beginning a project of social differentiation,”
the crowd provides a striking illustration of how criminology combined empirical, political, and moral claims. The French sociologist Gabriel Tarde, for example, claimed that criminal offenses were the “cutaneous eruptions of the social body; at times indices of a serious illness, they reveal the introduction, through contact with neighbors, of foreign ideas and needs in partial contradiction of national ideas and needs.”
Constructed as a diseased, primitive, or childlike entity, the crowd was an emblem of the problems that beset mass society. Crowds were considered feminine, vulgar, and unruly until governed by a member of the rational male elite.
Crowds had to be controlled whether their origins were biological or social.
The modern world was a hazardous place. According to Edinburgh psychiatrist Thomas Clouston, an important cause of criminalityânot to mention insanityâwas the failure of some adolescents to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions of modern life, due to a failure to develop the necessary psychological capacities for self-restraint. “In the course of the development
of the brain I think it is a certain fact that the later years of adolescence are those in which the great inhibitory, moral, and social faculties that fit men and womenkind to live in a well ordered, modern, civil society, attain such perfection as they are capable of in most men and women.”
Because mental inhibition was “the colonel-in-chief of the brain hierarchy,” a breakdown in its development would result in criminality.
In bridging the social and the biological, inhibition was a key conduit within discourses of control where brain sciences, medical practice, social policy, and civil and criminal law interacted with questions of personal conduct and morality. An individual's “power to exercise self-control seemed to make possible a legally ordered society.”
Governing the criminal had become a psychological matter.
The criminal was to submit to punitive measures of discipline, incarceration, and segregation, because he or she was considered a dangerous and degenerate subclass. But he was also the focal point in discussing projects of rehabilitation and reform. In the early nineteenth century criminals were thought to benefit from confronting stark symbols of their moral failings, while toward the end they became magnets for new welfare agendas. Less in need of deterrence and discipline, criminals were believed to require direct therapeutic intervention.
The advance of naturalism in the human sciences encouraged interventionist approaches. Henry Mayhew expressed this paradox in 1862 when discussing what he called “that portion of our society not yet conformed to civilized habits.” Not only were habits, reason, and the will fundamental aspects of human nature for Mayhew, but they were also ideal candidates for modification. He pointed out that “the greater number of criminals are found between the ages of 15 and 25; that is to say, at that time of life when the will is newly developed, and has not yet come to be guided and controlled by the dictates of reason.” The period when human beings began to assert themselves was “the most trying time for every form of governmentâ whether it be parental, political, or social; and those indomitable natures who cannot or will not brook ruling, then become heedless of all authority, and respect no law but their own.”
After what has been called an “efflorescence of scientific reinterpretation of criminality” from the later 1860s to the early 1870s, the advance of criminological naturalism stalled in England, just as Italian positivist criminology was in the ascendant.
When it did emerge, British criminology was, to a considerable extent, connected to both penal reform and medico-legal circles, unlike Lombroso's anthropology, which struggled to influence those domains. The reorganization of prisons after nationalization in 1877 left few
opportunities for prison doctors to pursue investigations not connected to their statutory duties.
The practical situation did not encourage theorizing around
, despite phrenology's influence and Francis Galton's attempt to capture the essence of criminal physiognomies with composite photography. The British were modest in their claims and “respectful of the requirements of institutional regimes and legal principles.”
British psychiatry did not isolate discrete human “types” and classify them by means of racial and constitutional differences. A therapeutically oriented practice, it was based on classifying mental disorders that demarcated the condition separately from the sufferer. Although criminals could exhibit a variety of conditions including insanity, moral insanity, degeneracy, and feeblemindedness, in Britain they were not conceived of as a distinct psychological type.
The Belfast News-Letter
put it in 1898, “The gallery of English criminals proves what many know alreadyâthat in England there is no criminal type. Lombroso's gloomy work, that would ascribe all crime to hereditary taint, can scarcely be read patiently by those who know English criminals.”
Two models of the criminal emerged in England toward the end of the nineteenth century, neither particularly Lombrosoian. First, the traditional working-class criminal was considered to be in retreat, thanks to a perception of increased police presence on the streets and a conception of the criminal as not so much degenerate as enervated of vital energy. A second image of the criminal as a skilled professional was posited “chiefly by the spokesmen, real and fictional, of the new professionals charged with carrying on the war on crime.”
After the 1880s, the English press regularly reported on Lombroso's ideas.
But there was never enthusiasm to organize criminology around the notion of the born criminal, and many of the main actors later modified their earlier claims concerning the criminal “species.” Despite the enormous concern with degeneration and eugenics in England from the 1880s to the early 1900s, British criminology was linked only precariously to the eugenics movement.
Such notions were tied to deep-rooted fears about the city and its outcast but fecund populations.
The most enthusiastic follower of Lombroso in England was Havelock Ellis, whose widely read book
(1890) summarized Lombrosoian doctrine. “In Great Britain alone during the last fifteen years,” Ellis complained, “there is no scientific work in criminal anthropology to be recorded.”
He did his best to promote the scienceâreviewing some nineteen works written in four different languages for the
Journal of Mental Science
in 1891 alone. But by then the British medico-legal profession was becoming somewhat dismissive
of Lombroso's ideas.
In his presidential address to the 1894 British Medical Congress, for example, Dr. Long Fox briefly noted “The Great Subject of Criminology.” The president joked, “that the human race is composed of two divisions of menâthe criminals who have been found out and those that have not yet been found out.”
Havelock Ellis hoped that the Rev. William Morrison's book,
Crime and its Causes
, would “do much to revive an interest in the scientific study of criminality in England,” even though its author had devoted as much space to the environmental causes of crime as he had to the “humbly developed mental organization” of criminals.
Criminal anthropology was but a “science in embryo stage,” asserted the Departmental Committee on Prisons in 1895, and most prisoners were “ordinary men and women amenable, more or less to all those influences which affect persons outside.”
Morrison, representing H. M. Prison Wandsworth, attended the 1896 Geneva Congress of Criminal Anthropology, as did Galton and Arthur Griffiths. Griffiths wrote a report for the Home Office on his experience. A prolific author of both factual and fictional crime accounts, it was he who wrote the 1911
entry on criminology, which was critical of type theory.
“The British Rough.” During the last quarter of the nineteenth century criminology assembled itself around the concept of “the born criminal.”
(London), Saturday, June 26, 1875.
In 1901 Dr. G. B. Griffiths, Deputy Medical Officer at Parkhurst Prison, inaugurated an anthropometric study to compare criminals with noncriminals. Some three thousand prisoners were measured. Commissioned and written under the auspices of the Home Office, the research was taken over by Charles Goring and published as
The English Convict: A Statistical Study
(1913). The book would later be depicted as the beginning of scientific criminology in England and as the final refutation of Lombroso's ideas. In line with his biometric orientation, Goring argued that the criminal should be viewed not as a qualitatively different morbid human kindâ“no evidence has emerged confirming the existence of a physical criminal type”
âbut rather as a variant of normality, differentiated only by degree. He pointed out that so-called criminal “anomalies” were only “more or less extreme degrees of character which in some degree are present in all men.” Yet there was, he wrote, “a physical, mental, and moral type of normal person who tends to be convicted of crime.”
Although Goring rejected Lombroso's degenerationist thesis, he retained the belief that the criminal had peculiar physiological characteristics. In the words of the eugenicist Leonard Darwin, criminals were “not a class apart, but merely ordinary individuals with certain innate qualities exceptionally well marked.”
If criminality was a variety of normality then criminological science should be based on the careful measurement and statistical analysis of large populations. Such procedures would reveal meaningful patterns in the mass of data that would otherwise remain invisible.
By the First World War the idea of a separate criminal class had been replaced by an acceptance of criminality as related to the normal workings of society. Although he had dismissed Lombroso's notion of the criminal type, Goring, nevertheless, accepted in principle the idea that criminals could be subjected to eugenic measures on the basis of their low intelligence and poor physique.
Criminal anthropology fared much better in the United States. From the mid-1870s to the 1920s, biological theories of the born criminal affected public policy, encapsulating hereditary explanations of social problems.
“One nation â¦ America,” Lombroso's daughter later triumphantly recalled, “gave a warm and sympathetic reception to the ideas of the Modern School.”
Criminal anthropology did not meet with universal acceptance, but perceptions of social deteriorationâthought to have been brought about by mass immigrationâand beliefs about the progress of biological science created a favorable climate for its reception.
Many commentators expressed reservations about Lombroso's theory, but its emphasis on degeneration resonated well with widely circulating ideas about eugenics.
Popularizations and translations of Lombroso's writings and Moritz Benedikt's
Anatomical Studies upon Brains of Criminals
(1881) introduced the science to an American audience. By arranging translations of Lombroso, Garofalo, and Ferriâwhile neglecting much of the French environmentalist schoolâthe American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology was an important conduit. Perhaps the most influential writer in English was Havelock Ellis, whose book
was in its fourth edition by 1911.
One of the earliest reports on the Italian school of criminology for an American readership came from the psychologist Joseph Jastrow.
in 1886, Jastrow reported that, according to the Italian scientists, crime was “the expression of a dangerous trait of character”; criminality, “a morbid phenomenon â¦ a defect analogous to insanity or idiocy.” Jastrow wanted “to call attention to the fact that a change in our view of crime and criminals seems about to take place.”
He lamented that while the law regarded chemical knowledge “as final” it considered medical knowledge to be provisional. The acceptance of Lombroso's theory of the insane criminal, however, would change the judiciary's guiding principles, he predicted. “Our knowledge of these marked classes is becoming sufficiently accurate and scientific,” he concluded, “to warrant a practical application of these views in the legal trials.”